18 May 2005

Kenya: Lake May Dry Up Due to Environmental Degradation

Nairobi — Lake Ol-bolossat, the only one in Central Province, will dry up if action is not taken to save it.

Cows graze on the shores of Lake Ol-bolossat in Nyandarua District. Pic by Stephen Njogo

Located in Nyandarua District, the lake, whose catchment area is 4800 square km, serves residents of

Nyandarua, Laikipia, Samburu, Isiolo, Wajir and parts of Garrissa District.

The world famous Thompson Falls in Nyahururu draws its water from Ewaso Nyiro River, which originates from the lake.

The Lake Ol-bolossat Integrated Management Plan, indicates that the lake is a tourist attraction. It is home to hippos, several bird species and a beautiful scenic view.

"Stoma Escarpment makes the lake have a natural beauty, bearing in mind the location of Thompson Falls and the Aberdare mountains," says the 2003-2008 plan.

The plan, prepared by Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) in conjunction with the University of Nairobi and Netherlands, addresses existing and impending threats facing the lake.

It says the lake may become extinct due to degradation of Aberdare Forest, siltation, overgrazing, conflicting government interests, fires, allocation of riparian land reserves, pollution from agrochemical and abstraction.

According to the report, wanton destruction of the Aberdare Forest through illegal logging, charcoal burning and frequent fires has adversely affected the water catchment area, reducing the water volume in the lake.

Another problem facing the lake is siltation of the wetland due to soil erosion. Farmers use poor cultivation methods leading to siltation in the lake.

The report says the farmers do not care about environmental conservation. They graze their animals on the same pasture instead of practicing rotational farming. The pastures are in use for 24 hours. While cows, goats, sheep and donkeys graze during the day, the hippos come out at night, the report adds.

Studies at the lake show that the livestock take more grass biomass than the hippos.

The animals also trample on eggs and the chicks of the nesting birds on the ground. The Government, according to the report, has also contributed towards the lake's bleak future.

It has drained 510 acres of swampy land for farming. A further 3,500 acres have been earmarked for drainage.

The Land Department has allocated land to at least 3,000 families. The beneficiaries tap water from streams for irrigation. Discharges from the farms pollute the lake due to the presence of fertilizers and other chemicals. This leads to a reduction of oxygen levels in the lake.

The future of the lake may be bleak, but it is popular for duck shooting. The game is co-ordinated by the Lake Bird-Shooting Club managed by the locals.

Tourists who visit the lake pay money to take part in the exercise. Between 1994 and 1997 the club donated Sh514,000 to four schools, two dispensaries, three dams and a youth football club.

The plan signed by former KWS director J M Kioko, proposes that the lake be run privately.

This will ensure that the stakeholders take charge of the lake. It will also encourage sustainable land use. The locals will also give their recommendations.

The plan proposes a water management committee to supervise the use of the lake's water for domestic purposes and for irrigation.

It recommends that farmers be trained on soil conservation.

Some of the methods aimed at checking soil erosion are use of terraces, growing napier grass strips, afforestation, cut-off drains and infiltration ditches.

The plan was compiled by among others Nyandarua District Departmental heads, KWS officials, University of Nairobi lecturers and representatives of the Netherlands Wetland Programme.

The experts recommend that the Government set up a committee comprising of 25 members to manage the lake.

Mrs Anne Mwangi, a farmer, supports the decision to include farmers in the committee.

"This will ensure that the needs of the farmers are considered. The team has prepared a Sh100 million budget for the management o the lake.

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